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Standards based reflection as a means of enabling teacher learning

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Eliza Zamor
Abstract:
The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of a standards based reflective process on the learning of four teachers with varying years of classroom experience. The researcher analyzed whether participants were better able to address issues of teaching and learning inherent in the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP) as a result of the program. The study began with a survey and initial interview designed to examine teachers' perceptions of how effectively they implement the CSTPs in the classroom. A control group similar to the experimental participants in terms of years of teaching experience also responded to the survey. Experimental group members then wrote weekly journal prompts focused on the implementation of the CSTPs, and participated in monthly collaborative group meetings to discuss the reflective process and their work with the professional standards. The study concluded with experimental and control group participants again responding to the survey to reassess their perceptions of how effectively they implement the CSTPs in the classroom. Experimental group members also participated in exit interviews, and several follow-up sessions used to verify the study's findings. Analysis of the data collected indicated that reflection grounded in the CSTPs assisted teachers in articulating the complexity of teaching, enabled them to discuss and address their misunderstandings regarding the meaning of the standards, and to adjust their class.


 iv 
 
 Table of Contents

Dedication

ii

Acknowledgements

iii

List of Tables

vii

List of Figures

viii

Abstract

ix

Chapter I: Introduction

1

Purpose of the Study

3

Research Questions

3

Overview of Research Methods

4

Definition of Terms

4

Chapter II: Literature Review

5 Teacher Preparation

6

Social Constructivist Theory

8 Definitions of Reflection

9 Impact of Reflection on Teaching

12 Factors Impeding or Enhancing Reflection

16 Promoting Reflective Practice

18 R eflection in Novice vs. Expert Teachers

21 Assessing Reflection

22 Standards based Reflection

26 Conclusion

27

Chapter III: Methodology

30 Purpose of the Study

30 Con text of the Investigation

31 Unit of Analysis

32 Research Questions

32 Research Design

33 Sample

33 Participant Characteristics

34 Data Collection

37 V alidity and Reliability Issues

39 Study Limitations

39 Ethical Considerations

39 Conclusion

40


 v 


Chapter IV: Findings

41

Addressing the Complexity of Teaching

41

The Need for a Focus on Standards

46

Clarifying the Meaning of the CSTPs

46

The Impact of a Focus on the Standards

47

From Routine to Transformative Reflection

49

The Impact of Sharing the Reflective Rubric

55

Evidence of Teacher Learning

57

Summary of Findings

61

Conclusion

63

Chapter V: Discussion

65

Provide Structured Reflection to Get Results

65

Assess Reflective Practice to Ensure Growth

67

Focus on Professional Standards

68

Implications

70

Lim itations

71

Recommendations for Further Research

71

References

73

Appendix A

79 Appendix B

84


 vii 
 List of Tables

Table 1: Experimental Group Participant Information

35

Table 2: Control Group Participant Information

36

Table 3: Control Group Survey Rating Change from Initial to Final Surve y

58

Table 4: Experimental Group Survey Rating Change from Initial to Final Surve y 59

Ta ble 5: Control Group Survey Ratings from Initial and Final Survey

94

Table 6: Experimental Group Survey Ratings from Initial and Final Survey

94


 viii 
 List of Figures

Figure 1: Changes in levels of reflection from week to week for par ticipant 01

50

Figure 2: Changes in levels of reflection from week to week for participant 02

51

Figure 3: Changes in levels of reflection from week to week for participant 03 51

Figure 4: Changes in levels of reflection fr om week to week for participant 04 52


 ix 
 Abstract

The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of a standards based reflective process on the learning of four teachers with varying years of classroom experience. The researche r analyzed whether participants were better able to address issues of teaching and learning inherent in the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP) as a result of the program.

The study began with a survey and initial interview designed to examine teachers’ perceptions of how effectively they implement the CSTPs in the classroom. A control group similar to the experimental participants in terms of years of teaching experience also responded to the survey. Experimental group members then wro te weekly journal prompts focused on the implementation of the CSTPs, and participated in monthly collaborative group meetings to discuss the reflective process and their work with the professional standards. The study concluded with experimental and contr ol group participants again responding to the survey to reassess their perceptions of how effectively they implement the CSTPs in the classroom. Experimental group members also participated in exit interviews, and several follow - up sessions used to verify the study’s findings.

Analysis of the data collected indicated that reflection grounded in the CSTPs assisted teachers in articulating the complexity of teaching, enabled them to discuss and address their misunderstandings regarding the meaning of the st andards, and to adjust their class.


 1 
 
 CHAPTER I

Introduction

As with preparation programs for other highly complex fields such as medicine and law, teacher preparation programs tend to inadequately prepare their graduates for the difficulties they will face when they enter the classroom (Darling - Hammond, 2006). Consequently, there is a need to continue building teacher knowledge at the school site. Schools typically attempt to do this through the use of professional development programs that unfortunately may be superficial and disconnected from practice (Loewenberg Ball and Cohen, 1999). For example, a good deal of money is spent on staff development, but most is spent on workshops and sessions that are fragmented, noncumulative, and disengaged from the deep issues of curriculum and learning (p. 4). These sessions are often grounded in the idea that teachers need “updating” rather than opportunities for serious learning regarding curriculum, students, and teaching. Sterling (2000) states that due to this stru cture, few changes in teacher practice usually take place as a result of professional development . 
 Loewenberg Ball and Cohen (1999) liken these sessions to yo - yo dieting, in which workshops provide brief sparks of novelty but then end with teachers returni ng to their same practices.

However, professional development can be a useful tool in continuing the education of teachers if it employs a social constructivist theory of teacher learning. This theory allows for dynamic interaction between participants an d their learning by connecting their personal experiences to their classroom practice ( Brooks & Brooks, 1993) . One way to accomplish this is to employ the use of reflection as a social


 2 
 
 constructivist tool to build teachers’ learning, through an ongoing exa mination of practice. As reflection originates from the thoughts and experiences of each practitioner, it becomes a useful tool in building connections between personal thoughts, assumptions, experiences, and practice.

Based on the literature, the author of this dissertation defines reflection as: “ An ongoing learning process in which teachers examine and restructure their own thinking and practice in relation to educational theory.” This process can impact the behaviors and practices of teachers in the c lassroom by helping them elucidate successful strategies and areas for improvement (Berkey , Curtis, Minnick, & Zietlow 1990; Osterman, 1990; Wildman , Niles, Magliaro, & McLaughlin, 1990; Beck, 1996). However, some studies show little or no impact of refle ction on teaching practices (Allison - Roan, 2006). Much of this may have to do with factors that impede or enhance the reflective process. Researchers have identified structural issues, which can affect the extent and quality of reflection (Richert, 1987). They have also identified motivation and commitment as major factors that influence the impact of reflection on teaching practices (Deutsch, 1996).

Researchers have particularly focused on strategies, such as journaling and collaborative groups (Langer a nd Colton, 1994; Roberts, 2006) that can be used to promote the reflective process. They point out that the type of reflection taking place will vary greatly depending on whether these tools are used and whether the practitioner is a novice or expert educa tor (Allen & Casbergue , 1997). In order to ensure that meaningful reflection takes place, it becomes necessary to assess reflective practice in a


 3 
 
 comprehensive manner. Researchers have attempted to do so by categorizing journal responses (Surbeck, Han, & M ayer , 1991) into different levels of reflection, and by creating a rubric for assessing them (Ward and McCotter, 2004).

Though standards for practice present an excellent guide for assessment, there has been little association between reflection and the use of standards such as the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP). The use of standards to guide reflective practice not only presents an opportunity to legitimately assess reflection, but also to create a framework from which to structu re the reflective process.

Purpose of the Study

Using the literature on teacher education, social constructivist theory, and reflection, this study examined the structured reflective practice of a small - scale sample of teachers from a charter school in d owntown Los Angeles. The sample was chosen to include teachers with from one to more than five years of experience. The researcher used the CSTP as a framework for the structured reflective process and ultimately compared the practices of teachers taking part in the standards based reflective process and a control group of teachers that did not participate in the standards based reflection experiment.

Research Questions

The study was guided by the following question: “How does reflection based in the Cal ifornia Standards for the Teaching Profession enable teacher learning?”


 4 
 
 Sub - questions of this overarching query were:

Do teacher reflections show a progression from routine to transformative reflection as they move through the structured process?

Are te achers better able to address issues of teaching and learning inherent in the CSTP as a result of the standards based process?

Overview of Research Methods

Using qualitative research methods, this study will investigate public charter school teachers in t heir first through sixth year of teaching. All experimental participants will take part in surveys, one on one interviews, collaborative groups, and prompt - guided reflective journals. Control group teachers will also participate in surveys.

Definition of Terms

Reflection - An ongoing learning process in which teachers examine and restructure their own thinking and practice in relation to educational theory.

Standards Based Reflection – Reflection grounded in the California Standards for the Teaching Profes sion.


 5 
 
 CHAPTER II

Literature Review

The following literature review offers an overview of the research on reflection. The review begins with a description of teacher education and the issues facing graduates as they leave their preparation programs and begin work in their classrooms. This is followed by a description of social constructivist theory. Definitions of reflection are then discussed, and the author reconceptualizes the term. This is followed by research regarding the impact of reflection on teaching, the factors impeding or enhancing reflection, and the options available to promote reflection. Next, differences in reflection between novice and expert teachers are explored, as are possibilities for assessing the reflective practice. The rev iew concludes with a discussion regarding the use of standards to structure and promote reflective practice.

The studies presented are predominantly qualitative in nature and tend to have small sample sizes so authors may provide in depth data regarding t heir participants. Settings range from university classrooms around the country to small private schools in predominantly White areas. Few studies take place in urban settings; however diverse sets of participants are utilized in most cases.

The research cited in this review generally ranges from 1990 until the present, though several of the papers and books were published prior to this date. The ERIC database as well as the Dissertations and Theses databases was searched. A series of keywords/terms were used including reflective teaching, reflective journaling, reflective dialogue, reflective educator, critical reflection, and reflective practitioner. Additionally,


 6 
 
 references from all selected papers and texts were used to identify additional sources that

were relevant to this study.

Teacher Preparation

While teaching may appear to be relatively easy, Wideen, Mayer - Smith, and Moon (1998) point out that getting a diverse group of students to learn in deep and meaningful ways is “inherently complex and mess y…” (p. 147). A teacher’s work is particularly complex because, the teacher must understand the child’s psychology , the particular social dynamics of the child’s social setting , and the possibilities of his or her own pedagogical activity to raise the cons ciousness and personality of his or her other charges to a new level (V ygotsky, 1978 ). In other words, teachers must take into account an elaborate range of factors in order to truly facilitate student learning. Given the complexity of skills required to incorporate the above stated components into teaching, it is not surprising that teachers often leave their preservice preparation programs feeling unprepared for the classroom (Darling - Hammond, 2006). The intricacies of teaching, as with any highly compl ex field, such as medicine or law, demand additional work towards proficiency once candidates leave their immediate preparation programs. However, schools of education are a key factor in putting teachers on the path towards expertise. Research has shown t hat teachers working with emergency permits feel less prepared for the classroom than those who experience preservice preparation (Darling - Hammond, and Sykes, 2003).

How e ver, teacher preparation programs are not perfect. In A Nation at Risk , the U.S. Depa rtment of Education (1983) found that declines in educational performance are


 7 
 
 largely due to inadequacies in the way the educational process is conducted. These inadequacies are in part due to some schools of education, whose programs have not

developed a strong theoretical base and have not identified a common core of knowledge and understanding that is basic to professional practice ( Morey, Benzuk, and Chiero, 1997). With a lack of principles of practice in teacher education programs, what often takes pl ace is an oversimplification of the skills needed to become an effective educator, which are in fact quite complex (Loughran, 2006). Consequently, many preservice teachers leave their programs with a lack of understanding of just how demanding tasks will b e when they enter the classroom (Lampert, 2001).

Teachers need opportunities to refine the skills they have learned in their preservice programs. In order to do this, it is necessary to provide extensive opportunities for teachers to reflect on their pra ctice, to examine the practice of others, and to learn more about their subjects and students (Loewenberg Ball and Cohen, 1999). The reflective process can help elucidate just how complex teaching is and can afford teachers the opportunity to address thes e complexities as they arise in the classroom. In most schools, reflective opportunities take the form of professional development. However professional development is often superficial and disconnected from the deep issues surrounding curriculum and lear ning because it lacks a coherent infrastructure

(p. 4). In order for teachers to seriously improve practice, they need to develop into learners who are able to analyze their own teaching. Furthermore, they need access to intellectual tools that can help t hem examine their work, challenge their own thinking,


 8 
 
 and draw reasonable conclusions from their inquiries that can help them navigate future situations.

Often professional development specialists pass on these tools to teachers through sessions and work shops. However, teachers’ brief exposure to new ideas that are not presented with reference to their own classrooms means that little is carried over into their daily practice (Fullan, 1991; Hawley & Valli, 1999). New ideas are tried with little success, or are not tried at all. Since this type of professional development is not based on strong theories of learning, it lacks the necessary components to engender long lasting change.

Social Constructivist Theory

Constructivist teaching methods are often hai led as being the finest to pursue, as they place the learner at the center of all activities. This theory identifies learners as unique individuals, whose background and cultures are central to the learning process ( Brooks & Brooks, 1993 ). Constructivism a ctively engages a learner’s personal interests and enables the formation of connections between the experience of the learner and the material to be learned. This challenges the learner to grapple with new information and make sense of it as it relates to his or her particular context. However, this theory has been expanded upon in recent years to include an understanding of the social nature of knowledge construction, referred to as social constructivism. The social is seen to encompass phenomena from cul tural trends to face - to - face interaction, reflecting both explicit and implicit group processes with intended and unintended consequences (Au, 1998).


 9 
 
 In order for teachers to connect with professional development learning experiences, teacher educators ne ed to employ social constructivist theories that will engage beliefs, experiences, and habits (Hawley & Valli, 1999). Little (1993) stated that

professional development designed in this way, to be contextually specific ,

provides teachers with a framework from which to build and be involved in the construction rather than the mere consumption of teaching knowledge. Only by creating these types of learning experiences will teachers have an opportunity to practice ongoing development and growth as opposed to sporadic and superficial changes.

Reflection has been presented as one such way to create these types of learning experiences. Authors such as Piaget (1977) and Mead (1932) characterized reflection as a main force behind cognitive development because the process causes individuals to intimately connect their own knowledge to their practice. Schon’s (1983) work regarding reflection - in - action encouraged educators to reexamine the use of reflection as a social constructivist tool to facilitate teacher learni ng and perhaps solve the issues often found in the majority of professional development programs.

Definitions of Reflection

Schon ( 1983) states that universities often commit to a view of knowledge so heavily weighted in theory that there tends to be a d ivide between scholarship and practice. Theory is essential in building a core knowledge base from which educators and other practitioners may build effective practices. However, there is little guidance for practitioners who want to gain a better underst anding of how to apply research - based knowledge in the classroom setting. Consequently, practitioners leave their preparation


 10 
 
 programs with a knowledge base that is unsuited for the complexity, uncertainty, instability, and uniqueness of everyday conflicts they are confronted with in the professional setting (p. 19 ).

In order to address this mismatch in education between the academic model of professional knowledge and the “messy” situations faced in practice, Schon suggested that practitioners undertake the process of reflection - in - action. He described reflection - in - action as the way professionals think about what they are doing as they are doing it. He stated that because practitioners are familiar with the unique characteristics of the situations they a re in, they are able to consider the many factors particular to their “problems” and examine them in light of academic theory. By doing so, practitioners are able to address any and all of the complex issues they are confronted with, as they are able to se amlessly integrate their theoretical understanding with what is actually happening in the immediate situation. While Schon did not provide examples of this process specific to education, he did demonstrate how reflection - in - action takes place in activitie s such as baseball. He described a pitcher’s ability to “find the groove” as an example of the reflection - in - action process. A pitcher understands the fundamentals of what is necessary to throw a strike; however, he must also take into account the conditio ns specific to the immediate game he is in and use them to adjust his tactic for throwing the ball. In this same way, an educator may be well versed in educational theory, but must also adjust how he or she approaches a specific situation by taking into ac count the factors that make it unique and addressing those in light of theory. Whenever practitioners are able to consider and address the conditions of their immediate situation


 11 
 
 in light of their theoretical and professional knowledge, they are practicing reflection - in - action. Schon asserted that reflection - in - action was necessary to deal with problems of practice because each problem was unique and could not be dealt with by applying standard theories or techniques.

Hannay (1994) similarly described re flection as a process that focuses on real problems, is action oriented, investigates alternative perspectives, and requires reasoned judgment. Like Schon (1983), she stated that reflection allowed for an interaction between theory and practice that could address complications teachers encounter on a daily basis. Expanding on this definition, Raines and Shadiow (1995) added that reflection involves searching for patterns in one’s thinking about classroom practices, and investigating the reasons for labelin g lessons successes or failures. They stated that because the reflective process challenges one to continuously identify issues in practice, it could act as a tool that would allow teachers to have a more substantive role in reform.

Jay and Johnson (2002) also saw reflection as a tool, but defined it as being a dialogic process between peers that would illuminate the boundaries of thought that limited teachers’ perspectives. Colton and Sparks - Langer (1993) agreed that dialogue was a main component of refl ection, but also defined attributes of reflective practitioners. They described them as having the ability to accomplish desired tasks, be flexible, take on social responsibility, and be aware of their own thinking.

Smits (1994) moved away from theoretic al definitions of reflection and examined the meaning of reflection as it applied to six students who were learning to become teachers. He found that reflection was integrally related to questions of purpose, self, and


 12 
 
 identity. Using data from conversatio ns, interviews, and journal entries, Smits concluded that reflection took the form of understanding teaching practices in relation to self - understanding as a teacher, and that the process was ongoing for teachers. Lynch (1996) added to the research on how teachers define reflection with her study that examined how three self - identified reflective teachers defined reflectivity. After conducting interviews with the three participants and identifying recurring themes, Lynch, like Smits (1994), concluded that reflection was an ongoing process of learning and growth that took place in the classroom on a daily basis.

The author of this study similarly defines reflection as an ongoing le arning process in which teacher s examine and restructure their own thinking and practice in relation to educational theory.

Impact of Reflection on Teaching

Despite the ability of researchers to define reflection, there has been some question regarding whether or not teachers use the process to restructure their practice on anyt hing more than a superficial level (Lynch, 1996). Schon (1983) claimed that reflection - in - action could indeed result in the restructuring of practice if a practitioner inquired into a problematic situation with the intent of resolving it. Other authors ech oed Schon’s claim, stating that reflective practice could challenge teachers to elucidate successful strategies and areas for improvement, as well as help them become autonomous problem solvers (Osterman, 1990; Wildman, Niles, Magliaro, & McLaughlin, 1990) . Studies performed by Berkey, Curtis, Minnick, & Zietlow (1990) and Beck (1996) confirmed these assertions and found that reflection helped teachers


 13 
 
 learn about possibilities and potential in their classrooms, change their practice, implement changes in p ractice, and combat stagnation at the school site. These findings were further substantiated by research from Lloyd (1999) and Swain (1998) who observed that reflection helped teachers review their professional focus and engender a desire for change in the ir own practice. They further noted that reflective groups could achieve a high level of community as a result of the process.

However, these conclusions are not always supported. Jay (2001) found that the impact of reflection on teaching varied greatly depending on features of context. She stated that the impact of reflection is greatly influenced by intentionality, school site conditions, and barriers related to each individual’s unique situation. Similarly, Allison - Roan (2006) found that while teachers may perceive the process of reflection positively, it does not necessarily translate into changes for all individuals. While teachers may recognize the need for change in their own practice through their own examinations, they may not necessarily undertak e the steps needed to realize these changes unless prompted to do so.

One possible cause for the varied findings reported above is the wide - ranging use of strategies to identify and facilitate reflection in these research studies. Studies that did not em ploy a structured implementation for the reflective process tended to yield mixed results, while those that focused on implementing reflection in a strategic way tended to precipitate consistent measurable outcomes. In the studies performed Jay (2001) and

Allison - Roan (2006), reflective practice was not facilitated through more than a handful of writing activities, whereas the studies completed by Berkey, Curtis, Minnick, &


 14 
 
 Zietlow (1990) and Beck (1996) employed the use of journals, portfolios, videotaped

observations, and reflective dialogues.

These structured activities were found to provoke changes in classroom practice. Cruickshank, Kennedy, Williams, Holton, & Fay (1981) measured these changes in practice, as the numbers of analytical statements tea chers were able to make about their pedagogy. The researchers found that reflective student teachers produced proportionately more analytical statements about teaching than students from a group that did not participate in reflective teaching practices. Th ey also reported that reflective student teachers were less anxious about the teaching process than their non - reflective peers. Vande Hey - Klefstad (2006) employed the use of collaborative groups, critical incident questionnaires, and e - journals in order to facilitate the reflective process, and found that this level of structure resulted in participants altering their teaching practices. Hollins (2006) similarly used weekly structured dialogue groups and reflective journal writing with elementary school te achers to promote reflection over the course of three years. Her study found that participants’ teaching practices evolved to include greater collaboration, deeper trust in peers, and a greater sense of responsibility for struggling students. She also foun d that the participants’ focus on literacy in their reflections resulted with students performing well above grade level on their state standardized reading test by the third year of the study.

Gipe and Richards (1992) found that reflective journal writing could provide enough structure to result in improved ability to prepare and present appropriate lessons. In their study of 23 elementary education students, the researchers put the preservice


 15 
 
 teachers through a 15 - week program in which participants were r equired to write weekly journals regarding their thoughts and feelings about teaching. Each week their program supervisors would read and comment on the journal writings by asking questions designed to encourage the novices to reflect on their statements. Whilst participating in teaching activities at an area elementary school, the participants continued to attend course lectures and demonstration lessons led by university personnel. At the end of the program, the researchers found that participants who wro te the greatest number of reflective journal statements were rated most improved in their teaching abilities. Meanwhile, participants who wrote the fewest journal statements were rated as least improved. Manning (2002) also found a positive linear relation ship between gains in reflection and gains in student achievement in her examination of eight elementary school teachers.

Varley’s (2003) research further validated the conclusion that a systematic approach was indeed necessary to critically ground the re flective process for teachers as they are in need of structured thinking opportunities before they can begin to make the connections that will lead to restructuring practice. This process can begin in teacher education programs if there is a deliberate foc us on reflective activities (Young, 1996). These activities can elucidate what deep reflection looks like by helping participants draw connections from theories and literature to classroom experiences (Madsen, 2005). If teachers are presented with a framew ork for reflective practice, they are able to carry it over into the classroom to evaluate their teaching and deliver more effective instruction (Freese, 1999).


 16 
 
 Factors Impeding or Enhancing Reflection

While a systemic approach to reflection results in t he most incidences of classroom change, researchers have acknowledged that the process can still be dramatically impacted by factors that either impede or enhance it. Richert (1987) identified structural conditions that can facilitate reflection. She foun d that reflections of preservice teachers can differ greatly depending on whether reflection takes place with the use of a portfolio and partner or not. Her findings indicated that reflections tended to be more superficial when participants did not reflect with the help of a portfolio or partner. In contrast, participants who used a portfolio, partner, or both, tended to focus more deeply on the content of instruction, the social aspects of teaching and learning, and content - specific pedagogy. Research supp orts that teachers are able to reflect on a deeper level when they build repertoires of knowledge based on the experiences of others (Keisay, 1989; Schroeder, 1997). Each study observed and interviewed three public school teachers to determine how they uti lized reflection in their teaching, and what enhanced the reflective process. Data collected from dialogues and interviews in each study revealed that with mutual support, teachers tend to avoid superficiality associated with the reflective process.

Full document contains 103 pages
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of a standards based reflective process on the learning of four teachers with varying years of classroom experience. The researcher analyzed whether participants were better able to address issues of teaching and learning inherent in the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP) as a result of the program. The study began with a survey and initial interview designed to examine teachers' perceptions of how effectively they implement the CSTPs in the classroom. A control group similar to the experimental participants in terms of years of teaching experience also responded to the survey. Experimental group members then wrote weekly journal prompts focused on the implementation of the CSTPs, and participated in monthly collaborative group meetings to discuss the reflective process and their work with the professional standards. The study concluded with experimental and control group participants again responding to the survey to reassess their perceptions of how effectively they implement the CSTPs in the classroom. Experimental group members also participated in exit interviews, and several follow-up sessions used to verify the study's findings. Analysis of the data collected indicated that reflection grounded in the CSTPs assisted teachers in articulating the complexity of teaching, enabled them to discuss and address their misunderstandings regarding the meaning of the standards, and to adjust their class.